Responding to a magazine ad that may have been placed by her biological mother, Sarah Barrett abandons her Bucks County family and runs slowly to disaster--in this sedate, ruminative thriller from Busch (Closing Arguments, 1991, etc.). No sooner does Sarah's husband Barrett find his wife gone than he parks his six-year-old son Stephen with his in-laws in Burroughs, New York, and goes west to Santa Fe, inspired only by a vague feeling that Sarah's headed back to her spiritual roots there. But Sarah, driven by ``that emergency feeling'' (as she calls it in a cryptic note to Stephen), is much closer than that: she's gone only as far as western Pennsylvania, where her birth mother, Gloria Dodge, makes her meddlesome rounds as an herbalist/nurse. As Barrett sinks deeper into oblivion via a masochistic liaison with Santa Fe barfly Marylinn Conover and her unappreciative husband, Sarah decides that she doesn't like Gloria (``Call me Mother''), resents her own abandonment, and wants out of this woman's life for good. Too late: drawn by the promise of a grandson she's never seen, Gloria takes off for Burroughs, where she lures Stephen into her car and immediately starts to demonstrate why her giving away Sarah wasn't such a bad idea. Unlike Closing Arguments, which had the energy of authentic pulp, this one is weighed down by the characters' enervation; the pulpish plot is mainly an armature for Busch's reflections--mostly through Sarah's anguish over her impossible status as daughter, adopted daughter, and mother--about commitment, forgiveness, and the loss of innocence. Only Sarah's adoptive mother, Lizzie Mastracola (returning from Rounds and Sometimes I Live in the Country), has the starch to stem the general tide of lassitude. At his best, Busch seems to press for new ways to register characters, their language, and their relationships--but his best shines out only fitfully in this murkily conceived fable.